The False Affordability Of Film Photography?

We spoke recently about how you can quite easily get started in film photography for £27, and then even more recently how film photography on a shoestring can cost a mere £12 to begin.

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Since writing 35hunter, I’ve been all in favour of proclaiming the affordability of shooting film, and hopefully puncturing some myths that it’s an expensive and exclusive hobby only for the well heeled.

So why do I now seem to be suggesting that this affordability of film photography is false? 

It all comes down to my own story.

I’ll try to keep it short, but detailed enough to give you enough insight that you might avoid some of the pitfalls yourself.

In those posts linked to above I talked about one cheap body and one cheap lens to get going, then using cheap film and processing.

Take the £12 example as a starting point, which bought me a Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58/2 M42 lens, M42 to EOS adapter and a couple of rolls of AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.

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If we assume buying a film and having it processed is around £5, and that we shoot a roll of film a week, this adds up to 52 x £5 + the initial £12 outlay, a total of £272.

Divide by 12 and we have a hobby that costs a shade under £23 a month. Within the realms of affordability for most of us.

Especially when I consider people I know who spend double that every month on gym membership, or a satellite/cable TV subscription. Or more than that on coffee every single week.

It’s very little to pay for such a vital passion as ours.

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The problems for me started when I realised just how affordable it all was. 

My inner bargain hunter / thrift seeker / cheapskate / Scrooge revelled in this heady excitement and the fact that beautiful vintage lenses and cameras could be mine for a few pounds.

All kinds of weird and wonderful expired film could also be mine for a few pounds too. Plus it was usually cheaper bought in bulk lots of four or eight or 28 rolls.

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So £5 here, £12 there, occasionally £20 elsewhere, and certainly more than a few 99p triumphs, all seemed innocuous, bargain purchases in isolation.

But then one day I realised I’d hoarded not just one or two bargains, but one or two dozen.

Some days later still, I decided to lay it all out together to see the full damage (it’s amazing how much you can cram in boxes), and realised I had close to 60 cameras and maybe another 20 lenses.

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Estimating that each camera/lens probably cost on average £15, and that I had around 80 in total, the maths was rather frightening. 15 x 80 = £1200.

Now I didn’t spend this all at once of course. But if I’d bought just that one shoestring camera and lens for £12, I’d still have nearly all of that £1200 left over the same period. 

Plus arguably I’d be more focused on the real purpose on why I photograph with less options to distract and confuse me.

Looking at it another way, there isn’t a dream camera (for me) I’m aware of that I could have mine for maybe £500, let alone £1200.

I could have bought that Contax S2b and a couple of Zeiss lenses. Or even one of those German L cameras. 

Or spent it on trips to new places that would have given me fresh inspiration, or a couple of handfuls of books by some of the photography greats of the past. Or, at that £23 a month, funded over four years of buying and processing film.

£1200 goes a long way in this hobby.

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On reflection now, I don’t have any major regrets.

I’ve sold a lot of the stuff I bought, and rarely lost money, often making a decent profit.

I am the photographer I am today, with the experience I have, because of the paths I’ve chosen in the last ten year or so.

However, if I was starting again now, I would not have bought so so many cameras and lenses that ultimately all do much the same thing.

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I’m still looking for ways to simplify, and cut through to the raw essence of photography. 

My entire photographic arsenal now fills three small shelves in a bookcase. But what if it could fill just two. Or just one? Or just my pocket or the palm of my hand?

This reducing in itself can be just as dangerous and addictive.

I’m currently thinking of thinning my digital kit (I’m not quite ready to rely just on my iPhone though I do enjoy it more than ever) by buying an older 8 or 10MP CCD Ricoh GRD compact to use as my main camera, replacing both the iPhone, my DLSRs, and the NEX for most occasions.

Which of course costs an initial outlay, even if I could get it back by selling what it might replace afterwards.

 

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Back to the pint of writing and sharing this post. If I was to advise anyone starting out with film (or anyone trying to reduce their film photography kit), I would still point them to a simple, cheap set up.

Like that Canon EOS and Helios lens, or a Spotmatic and Takumar or a Pentax M or A body with an M or A series lens.

More importantly, I’d further suggest they stick to it – focus on mastering that one set up, shooting lots of film (of the same type) and getting to know their equipment, and themselves as a photographer.

More stuff and more choice is just an unnecessary distraction from this invaluable journey.

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Have you fallen into to the false affordability of film trap yourself? Please tell us about it in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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The Lomo Itch (And How I Scratch It)

Lomo photography is an itch I periodically get and have to scratch. Here’s how I came to it, the allure it has, and how I scratch that itch these days…

Though I was using camera phones to intentionally make photographs from the mid 2000s, my first film camera, in 2012, was about as Lomo as it gets, a Holga 120N.

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My initial disbelief that this simplistic toy hunk of plastic could make any kind of image turned to wonder and delight I had the first roll processed. Then another, and another.

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Finding that shooting medium format 120 film was pretty expensive, I followed this by adapting the Holga to take 35mm film – considerably more affordable to buy and have developed.

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Realising that the Holga exposed 35mm film across its whole width – and that the cost to have this scanned was ridiculous – I invested in my own scanner and modified one of the scanning masks/frames.

I also experimented with some close up filters, and again got some surprisingly pleasing results.

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This in turn was soon followed by the first genuine 35mm film camera I bought, a possibly even more Lomo, er, Lomo Smena 8M.

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Most of my cameras since (and there have been many!) have been less lo-fi, and I eventually expanded into the sedate control of SLRs, and some five years later, DSLRs.

Other notable plastic fantastic cameras I’ve had are the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (UWS) clones – I’ve had a Black Slim Devil and an Olive San, both made by Superheadz – the Konica Pop, a Pentax PC-330, and a couple of Miranda and Halina panoramas.

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Though these days I shoot mostly digital with vintage manual lenses, that Lomo urge still periodically reappears.

Why?

Because not having to think about anything but pointing and shooting, and knowing that the final photograph will be high contrast, overly saturated, soft at the edges (if not all over), and have significant vignetting (if it comes out at all), and be a little bit unpredictable, is somehow very attractive and addictive.

But, ironically, the most Lomo images I make these days aren’t on film at all, but with my iPhone, plus the Hipstamatic app.

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After taking a few hundred shots with the iPhone and finding them good enough for snapshots but overall a bit dull, I tried the in built filters, like Noir, Chrome, Instant and, my favourite, Transfer. The latter makes for especially appealing spontaneous portrait shots, in my opinion, and it’s my default setting for family outings.

Keen to explore further (and after stumbling across it via another app I already had to use my iPhone as a lightmeter for my oldest 35mm cameras), I downloaded Hipstamatic.

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The range of options available via changing the “film”, “lens” and “flash” in any combination is quite dizzying. I’ve managed to find a handful of combos I really like, and recently settled on just one.

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Hipstamatic offers seven different aspect ratios, but the one that I use most is the pure 1:1 square. I sometimes use 3:2 as I’m so familiar with it from shooting 35mm film and with my Pentax DSLRs.

And occasionally too I’ve been dabbling the widescreen cinema apsect of 16:9, which can work well for landscapes and adds drama.

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The iPhone plus Hipstamatic pairing gives me results very similar to my favourites I was getting with probably my favourite 35mm plastic fantastic, the Superheadz UWS clone.

As I can do this with no expenditure on film, a way higher hit rate, and the convenience that my iPhone is always with me, it’s pretty much resigned my Holga and Superheadz to a dusty shelf.

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Plus the whole process of scanning was unbelievably time consuming, and for me at least, just not worth the time and frustration. I fairly quickly reverted to having my film developed and scanned to CD again, and let the lab do their best.

The time saving and the relief was a major revelation, not unlike my recent giving up of eBay to gain more time for other aspects of photography.

More often than not I love the control and image quality that SLRs/DSLRs with vintage manual lenses give, not to mention the tactile experience and the immersion of a good viewfinder.

It’s these that get me closer to the majesty and wonder of the world that’s too easily overlooked.

But for when I feel that Lomo itch, and want a quick and dirty image that’s a delicious hyperreal dream take on reality, all I need do now is reach in my pocket, swipe right, open Hipstamatic, point and shoot. And that has a great appeal.

What are your experiences with lomo/lo-fi photography? Let us know in the comments below.

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Guilty Secrets And The Great Film Fallout 2017

This feels something of a confessional. I started writing 35hunter in late 2015 with the following intentions –

35hunter is a diary of my photography hunting adventures.

The three things I’m hunting for are –

  1. Beautiful objects and scenes to capture with a photograph. Usually using 35mm film cameras.
  2. The ideal camera. Or, more realistically, a small collection of excellent, individual cameras that I love using.
  3. A balance between being a photographer and a camera collector. Mostly I want to be the former, and feel like the latter.

I’m pleased to find that, some 20 months and 80 posts later, my intentions are much the same. Especially parts 1a, 2 and 3.

What has changed rather significantly is the extent of my use of 35mm film.

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I’ve never been an exclusively film photographer, and since buying my Sony NEX in 2014 have kept around 3500 photographs. As I edit quite strictly, and maybe only keep 20% at best, I must have shot around 15000+ with the NEX.

In other words, I’m no stranger to shooting digital. 

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Since 2012 I’ve gathered some 15000 items in my film photograph folder on my MacBook, shot with 130 different cameras. Yikes. So, I’m pretty familiar with film too.

But the number of rolls of film I’ve shot this year, 2017, can be counted on two hands. 

Since May I’ve shot a single roll of film, barely any more on my NEX. But I have kept some 1500 photographs from my newly discovered Pentax K10D and Samsung GX-1S DSLRs.

Again these are just the keepers – I’ve likely shot approaching 7000-8000+ images across these two bodies so far.

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What this all means is I’m not what you could call an active high volume film photographer anymore. 

I’m barely a film photographer at all.

So, the truth is out! Where does this leave me?

As I see it, I’m actually closer to my original aims outlined at the launch of 35hunter (and ones I’ve had in my head for some years previously) than ever before.

I still love seeking out beautiful things to photograph, and they’re still usually trees, flowers, crumbling gravestones and weathered paint flaking doors.

Also, I’ve found as close to the ideal camera set up as is probably possible, in my K10D and its little brother the Samsung GX-1S.

So much so that I’ve literally just taken arrival of a Samsung GX10, the Samsung clone of the K10D as a back up/ complementary camera.

Using my beloved old Takumars and a few other vintage M42 lenses on the K10D, a handful of A series SMC Pentax on the GX10, and potentially any of these (but mostly my recently discovered super light and mightily impressive Pentax DA 35/2.4) on the little GX-1S, makes a manageably small but formidable arsenal – three cameras and around 20 lenses.

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When I do feel a hunger for film, I still have my Spotmatic F for M42 and Program A for K mount lenses.

This set up also makes me feel closer to being a photographer than a camera/lens collector than I have done in about four years.

Which is a big thing for me – I hate just collecting stuff for the sake of collecting and not actively using it, plus that unhealthy binge/purge consumption cycle it’s so easy to get sucked into.

So whilst this post does feel a bit of a guilty confession, in fact I’m nearer my aims than ever.

Which, it turns out, is nothing to hide about after all…

Where are you in your photography journey? 

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Film Faves #2

A regular series of very short posts that revisit some of my favourite film photographs from the last five years since I’ve been shooting film.

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Chinon CE-4S, Pentax-M f/1.7 50mm lens, Agfa CT Precisa cross processed film, double exposed

I’m fond of this shot for a few reasons.

Mainly because it was the first shot where I figured out how to deliberately layer two compositions so one filled the other.

I’d dabbled with multiple exposures very early on with my first film camera, the Holga 120N, but it had mostly ended up as two random layers of colliding images with no relation.

I started to realise from small sections of the photos from these experiments, that if you had a strong silhouette on one layer and strong colours on the other layer, you could “fill” the silhouette with colour.

This shot is the first where I deliberate shot the two layers with this intention – and largely it worked as I’d hoped. 

I also like it because it’s one of the first times I’d cross processed film, and I was pretty delighted with the hyper real greens and blues the CT Precise gave me.

Strangely, some of the vivid colours I get with my Pentax K10D DSLR and Pentax-A series lenses remind me of cross processing Precisa, especially the greens. Like this one.

Have you ever tried double exposures, or cross processing? Please let us know in the comments below (and share links to your favourite results!)

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Film Faves #1

Partly inspired by Jim Grey‘s single frame series, and partly by an effective practice I had with a former blog, I’m planning a regular series of very short posts that revisit some of my favourite film photographs from the last five years since I’ve been shooting film.

Film Faves #1

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Olympus XA2, Ferrania Solaris 200 Expose Both Sides

This was possibly the height of my film experimentation – shooting a roll of film in the little XA2, rewinding then rolling back into another canister as DIY redscale (in a improvised darkroom bag – ie my hoodie – in the middle of the woods), then shooting through again. Heady times!

Have you ever tried exposing both sides of the film? Please let us know in the comments below (and share links to your results!)

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Film Photography On A Shoestring

There are still many myths around how much it costs to get set up with film photography.

I want to shoot a few more down.

A while back I wrote about how to start start film photography for £27. Based on at least two of the three rolls of film I’ve just got back from the lab, this amount is hugely generous.

Let’s just look at one set up, a 35mm SLR.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

The caption above kind of gives away the kit I used, but to elucidate further –

Camera – Canon EOS 500

These are abundant on the auction site online and often in charity shops too. Though I also have a more sophisticated EOS 300v which cost a heady £15, the 500 does everything I need and more. It’s great if you’re coming from a DSLR as it looks and feels similar – like a baby DSLR with no LCD screen on the back, simpler controls and that only weighs 350g. It cost me 99p plus a couple of pounds postage.

Lens – Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 Mount

I bought this from a jumble bin at a camera show. It’s battered, bruised, has lots of dust and a couple of bubbles inside. Plus a dent in the filter rim where it was rapidly encouraged to the floor from a table by a three year old. But it keeps on ticking. The dealer wanted £10, I got it for £7. Try these other three underdogs for equally affordable alternatives.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Film – AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

This rebranded Fuji C200 film is £1 a roll in Poundland. It’s very versatile and I’ve used it extensively to shoot colour, DIY redscale and black and white. Though there are other emulsions I like, this is my Olympian Decathlete film – a fantastic all round champion.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Of course the Canon EOS isn’t a native M42 mount body.

So I need an adapter.

I actually have three, as a couple of sellers have included them free when I’ve bought M42 lenses. If you do have to buy one, they start at 99p. With free postage. Mine is a simple all metal adapter with no fancy focus chips. On Aperture Priority (Av) mode on the EOS it works a treat.

Adding it up, this set up cost me about £12, including film.

Obviously the film you can only use once, and there are development costs each time.

But there are no excuses on the grounds of cost in getting started with shooting film (or resuming the passion you retired to the sidelines years ago).

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Canon EOS, Helios 44-2, complete with dented filter ring badge of honour

What else does £10 buy you these days?

Are you making excuses about getting started in shooting film? 

Or, like me, do you try to shoot on a shoestring budget?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Redscale Film – How To Make And Shoot Your Own

One of the major reasons I love film is the experiments you can try that have no direct digital equivalent.

Shooting redscale film is an excellent example.

You’ve probably already seen redscale images, that look monochrome, but with a burnt orange red as the base colour rather than white.

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Canon T70, Sigma Mini Wide II 28mm f/2.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 DIY redscale film

These photographs are obviously distinctive overall, but redscale remains one of the more unpredictable and exciting aspects of film, along with cross processing (x-pro), shooting expired film and film soups.

But although the photographs appear dramatic, radical, and otherworldly, the process of creating redscale film is actually very simple.

You could go out and buy pre-made redscale film off the shelf, and pay £5-10+ per roll for the privilege. Or you could, like me, ever the cheapskate, make your own from cheap consumer film like AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, costing £1 a roll at Poundland.

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Pentax Espio 120Mi, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 DIY redscale film

You’ll notice from the above shot also, that redscale doesn’t always have to be those extreme fiery oranges. It can be more subtle graduations too. More on that later, but first, what redscale film is.

Essentially, redscale is regular film that is exposed on the wrong side. So to make your own, you need a canister of film that’s been loaded back to front. Easy.

What you need

A roll of fresh film, a donor film canister, some scissors, some sellotape, a dark room.

How to make the redscale film

First, take your two rolls of film.

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The purple roll on the left is the fresh roll of film. The red roll on the right contains just a few inches of film, still attached inside the canister. You can’t pull any more film out than is showing here. This is the donor canister.

The easiest way to get a donor canister is sacrifice a roll of film the first time you try this, by pulling it all out and cutting it off to leave just those three inches or so at the end.

After you’ve done this once, you will then always have a new donor canister at the end of making the redscale film – you won’t need to sacrifice a fresh roll of film every time.

Next, cut the leader from the fresh film so you have a vertical straight edge. Keep the offcut, you’ll need this later.

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Then with the fresh film and donor film canisters the same way up, overlap maybe three or four sprocket holes and tape. It helps if you try to keep the film neatly aligned top and bottom.

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Notice that one film has its regular side facing us, the other its reverse. This is obvious with any colour negative film – one side is a dark grey, the other brown. Because redscale film is regular film flipped over, it’s essentially we join the films with their opposite sides showing like above.

After the joining, wind in the donor spool (the red one that is currently empty) so the two canisters touch and you can’t see the film.

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You can do the next part anywhere that doesn’t have strong light present. If you’re nervous, go to a dark room.

I’ve done this with my arms the wrong way down the sleeves of my jumper in a field on a sunny day, and it’s worked perfectly, so don’t worry too much. Especially if you keep the two canisters close together like the image above, so there’s little chance of light getting in.

Wind the red donor roll in with your finger and thumb until it won’t wind anymore. Then, back in the light, pull a little film out again so you can see it between the two canisters.

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Then simply cut down the middle, leaving a few inches on the new donor roll, ie the purple roll that has just been emptied of film. This is then ready to be donor next time.

With the redscale roll (here the red one) which now contains all the film, use the leader you cut off at the start as a template to cut a new leader. The longer part of the leader is always at the top end of the canister where the knob sticks out.

DSC05639Now you have your new freshly rolled roll of redscale film. I find it useful to mark an R on the side to remind me it’s redscale.

DSC05643Pop your other, now empty canister in a pot and write “donor” on it, ready for next time.

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How to shoot redscale

As I mentioned at the outset, redscale photographs are typical intensely red and orange.

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Canon AE-1, Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, Kodak 400 Max DIY redscale film

But once the novelty of that vivid effect wears off, you’ll likely want to explore the more subtle graduations. Especially as over exposing redscale film a few stops gives a lovely subtle vintage feel.

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Olympus XA2, Fuji C200 DIY redscale film @ISO25

Different films give different intensities of red. AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 (which is rebranded Fuji C200) works very well.

At box speed it gives vivid reds and oranges, and over exposed three or four stops gives the kind of tones as above and below. I’d recommend using a camera with manual ISO control, so you have this creative control.

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Olympus XA2, Fuji C200 DIY redscale film @ISO25

Ferrania Solaris 200 gives very red results, even if you overexpose it a few stops.

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Olympus XA2, Ferrania Solaris 200 DIY redscale @ISO25

Solution VX200 (rebranded Konica VX200) gives very interesting greens and yellows.

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Pentax P30T, 55mm f/2 SMC Takumar lens, Solution VX200 DIY Redscale film

Especially when combined with multiple exposures. It’s like autumn in a canister.

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Canon AE-1, Solution VX200 DIY redscale, double exposed

Hopefully you found this guide easy to follow and are inspired to try your own redscale, if you haven’t already. It’s a unique, rewarding and often surprising way to make the most of film.

Please share your thoughts, experiences, and any questions, in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.